Apology homeland, could not make it

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Seattle’s Nepali students chose Wisdom over personal desire

She froze. She stopped mid-sentence while telling her about the earthquake relief work. Abruptly, her expression changed to one of utmost terror; she jumped from her chair and disappeared off her daughter’s computer screen, screaming, “Earthquake, earthquake!” As Nihit Pokhrel, a student from University of Washington, recalls this experience of Skyping from Seattle, with her mother who was in Nepal, fear is written all over her face. This is the story of a girl whose parents lived in Nepal and went through the horrifying earthquake of April 2015.

It is traumatizing to see how the terror has shielded  their sense. Pokhrel says, “Seeing her panic and shout I feel like the earthquake has struck Seattle. The effect became so powerful.” This is the state of mental health of the people living away from their families which is nothing less than a disaster, unseen to the common eye.

The terrifying earthquake of magnitude 7.8 on the Richter Scale killed 8702 people and injured 22,493, According to the report as of 3rd June 2015 published by UNHCR. The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 19, marking itself as the deadliest day in the history of the Himalayas.

As Nepal was being devastated, the immigrants whose families reside there were equally affected. The trauma of not being able to know about your loved ones, of being away from your families in such a difficult time, of being unable to wipe their tears can be painful. Sensationalized news stories being the only source of information for first twenty hours due to widespread shutdown of communication networks made the situation even worse.

Everyone wanted to return to their country; to be with their kinsfolk during this crisis. My inbox flooded with messages from friends and family staying abroad questioning about the situation and the mental state we are going through? Out of rage I wondered as to why are they not coming back to support their countrymen and families in such a crisis situation?

“I wanted to go to Nepal but there were many issues that were proving to be a barrier. I spoke to our Nepalese community at the campus, but we were so confused “. This seems to be the story of all students living abroad who wish to go back but cannot, due to various reasons. In spite of fearing for their family they choose to stay back. The President of Nepal Student Association (NSA), Shyam Kandel, says, “I felt like leaving everything behind and going there [Nepal] but commitments brought me back to reality.”

NSA consists of Core Team of twenty Nepalese students says Archana Shrestha, Vice-President of NSA, “everyone else is willing to help and contributes in ways other than physical presence.”

It is important to focus on reasons why Nepalese living in Seattle cannot be with their families during emergencies. “I wanted to go back but then I would have missed an entire semester of studies. The university attendance rules are strict, and the cost of traveling would be too much to bear in this difficult time.” The University has clear rules and guidelines with regards to attendance. This fear of consequent failure was one of the biggest hurdles that students faced.

Moreover, being a student it is very expensive to travel on such short notices. Pokhrel says, “Normally the prices of the tickets from Seattle to Nepal is around $1500 but during that time the prices increased to somewhere around $2000 plus”. “The runway was also closed during the earthquake because the runway was deteriorating under the weight of large aircrafts. Due to which no flights were permitted to land in the runway. Even if we decide to go there was no place to land”, she continues.

Reading news reports about the devastation, the students were clueless about their family. It was uncertain even if their houses were all right or had broken down. The feeling that your families might not be the place you left them is distressing. Due to all these reasons, in spite of their strong wishes to join their families, the students chose wisdom over personal desire.

Students of University of Washington believed they were probably not the right resource that Nepal required at such an emergency. Instead of using the money to travel it was proving to be better to stay and collect donation. Pokhrel further elaborates, “Nepal wanted useful resources and we didn’t have any training and experience for relief operation. We didn’t want to increase the traffic at the already crowded airport. We are trying our best to help our families.” The students started collecting donations and asking for help in Seattle.

Such sensitive topics of mental health are often rendered invisible amidst the shrill of sensationalized news reports of gore and devastation. Students who are living in a foreign land far away as their loved ones are being wrecked, are often over-looked in this process. It will take time for them to bounce back but this has definitely made more resilient.

“Every morning I get up and the first thing I do is check the news with a small voice inside me pleading: No more ripples on water. Life is uncertain and challenging but at the end we have to move on and stay strong”, ends Kandel.

This story was produced in the 2015 SUSI program.